Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Little Brother (2008)

Today I just finished reading my electronic copy of Little Brother, a 2008 Young Adult novel by Cory Doctorow.  I decided that I'm going to do a five-minute review of this book in my Five Minutes On segment of the Alternative Airwaves podcast, so this blog post will basically serve as the copy for that.

Little Brother (2008, Tor Books) tells the story of Marcus Yallow - AKA W1n5ton - a 17-year old high school student in San Fransisco who delights in outsmarting his school's attempts to keep tabs on him.  After a terrorist bombing of the Bay Bridge, the Department of Homeland Security institutes sweeping measures in an effort to stop any future attacks.  When he finds that he no longer feels safe in his own city, Marcus decides to fight the DHS and restore freedom to the country that he loves.

I really liked this story.  It's classified as a Young Adult novel, but it has some fairly mature themes for the age level that it's targeting.  And let me re-emphasize that I like the story, but not so much all the sidebars about all the hacks Marcus is able to implement.  I understand that these explanations are quite relevant to move the plot along, but it feels like a text book about cryptography and network hacking dropped in between a pretty intense story.

That's why I gave the book three stars over at Goodreads.  The story was good, but it was bogged down by a few too many detailed explanations.  I suppose that's Little Brother's version of TNG's technobabble.  Still, despite these small problems, I thought the book had a lot of neat ideas and presented a fairly convincing picture of what our society might look like five to ten years in the future.

Just a few notes about Little Brother: As if the title wasn't a dead giveaway, Doctorow drew plenty of influences for this story from George Orwell's classic 1984...If you read this book and are interested in making any of the cool things Doctorow mentions, check out this page: http://www.instructables.com/member/w1n5t0n/...There are a couple of afterwords at the end of the book by Andrew Huang and Bruce Schneier, some pretty big names in the field of hacking and security...Doctorow included a very comprehensive bibliography with some interesting reading material and various links; well worth checking out if this book gives you big ideas...Speaking of interesting reading material, one work that specifically sticks out from that bibliography is Neal Stephenson's Cryptonomicon, surely a compelling read...And lastly, this book contains several references to some pretty cool historic events that ocurred in San Fransisco and of the people that made up the counterculture; definitely worth checking out that rich history.


  1. Nice review! I remember enjoying this book when I read it... I also enjoyed the sidebars, but maybe that's just me being a weirdo :)

    But wait... no haikus???

  2. Well, SOME of the sidebars were interesting, but sometimes I felt that they took away too much from the story. They reduced the urgency for me.

    And no, no haikus for this one. I don't think I could credibly stretch one out to fill five minutes of air time ;)